VERNON >> Farmer and pastor Art Miller challenged his community to "think big."
"I know with the Planning Commission, we had the gas plant we batted around town. That's suspended as far as I know in this point of time," he said, referring to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project being shelved. "That's a big thing."
With the shutdown of nuclear plant Vermont Yankee comes a significant reduction in taxes paid to the town. And that amount is only going to shrink as time goes on.
Miller, who told residents that a second Community Visit meeting Thursday with the Vermont Council of Rural Development was a chance for them to be "bold and creative" about solutions for Vernon, was selected to serve as chairman of the process. The Community Visit is funded through the Windham County Economic Development Program, which was created in a settlement between Yankee owner Entergy and the state of Vermont to assist with the anticipated loss of about 600 jobs.
Residents decided new priorities should include creating a village center and opening a community store or cafe. Also on the list was improving trails and outdoor recreation with a thought to conservation and developing the riverfront.
Some spoke of wanting Vernon to become a destination — whether that meant for recreation or living or both depended on who was talking.
"My vision is somehow, how do we become that town?" Planning Commission member Brett Morrison said.
Planning Commission member Martin Langeveld pointed at places like Putney, Newfane and Townshend for inspiration.
"It's the village center that helps to define the town," he said. "So it would be a catalyst for bringing more business and residents into town."
Resident Karen Amidon wants to see Vernon made into a drug-free community. She noted the importance of having a "very strong school system" and maintaining school choice for students leaving the elementary school.
"We don't have the community store and cafe anymore. We did. We miss it," said Select Board member Emily Vergobbe. "We want it back."
Resident Martha Haskins called for Vernon to take a leadership role in protecting natural resources and land.
Attendees recognized that the Planning Commission, tasked with exploring economic development opportunities now too, was already making some headway on preparing for post-Yankee life. For about two years, the commission talked with interested parties about a natural gas plant. Voters largely supported the prospect in a nonbinding vote at annual Town Meeting in March.
The commission is still interested in large-scale energy projects and whatever else might benefit the town. A subcommittee is looking at fiber optic improvements.
These type of projects were deemed important by residents who voted by posting stickers on individual sheets of papers with the aforementioned priorities. But since the commission is actively looking at these items, VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello said his group would arrange for a team of experts in those fields to meet with the commission. Task forces assigned to the other priority items will meet with other specialists in meetings that the council will help facilitate.
The next meeting, on July 7, is expected to bring those resources to the town. The experts are expected to come from all different backgrounds. State, federal, nonprofit and business leaders came to Vernon for the first Community Visit on May 18.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.